Xenoblade Chronicles has become of Nintendo’s most important franchises. Here’s how it went from Operation Rainfall to Nintendo Switch’s core JRPG.
By Abram Buehner
Published Mar 11, 2021
In 2011, the thought of Xenoblade Chronicles getting localized was unfathomable. In 2021, Xenoblade Chronicles is one of Nintendo’s most prominent series. With three representatives in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and a string of system-defining role-playing games, the rise of Xenoblade Chronicles is staggering. In many ways, Xenoblade is at the forefront of modern Nintendo. What began as a Japanese-only Wii curiosity is now partially the face of the Switch era.
Xenoblade didn’t have any worldwide resonance until 2012. That was the year Nintendo finally brought the original game to the West. This localization coincided with the persistent fan campaign Operation Rainfall, which started in June of 2011. Operation Rainfall began as a grassroots effort to bring three Wii-era JRPGs to the West, including Xenoblade. It quickly snowballed and garnered a great deal of fan and media attention. Former Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime has stated that Operation Rainfall wasn’t a direct factor in the game’s localization. Still, Operation Rainfall certainly changed the tenor around Xenoblade Chronicles in the community and raised its status from that angle, at least.
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The series didn’t see immediate success. By the time it was released in North America, the Wii was struggling to move software, and Xenoblade’s release was limited. The game was launched only through Nintendo’s online store and at GameStop. However, that didn’t undercut the game’s quality. Xenoblade pushed past the seeming limitations of its hardware. The game is staggeringly beautiful on Wii. While the Switch remake, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, is obviously more impressive, the original game is a technical achievement. That is, on top of being a wonderfully-written and deeply engaging JRPG that Nintendo fans rally around.
Xenoblade Chronicles X followed up the original in 2015, and it proved to be just as resonant. The game was a stunning counterpoint to the lion’s share of the Wii U’s output. The system had inventive and exciting releases such as Splatoon and Super Mario Maker, but most of its titles were iterative and safe. The Wii U’s library is full of incredibly polished games, but many were derivative of Wii and 3DS titles. By contrast, Xenoblade Chronicles X was something new. It was an expansive, open-world JRPG that felt above and beyond anything else on the system in terms of scope. While it failed to connect sales-wise, it was one of Wii U’s cult darlings and arguably the showcase for Wii U’s power.
Yet, both the original Xenoblade Chronicles and X were the backdrop for Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Before this December 2017 release, Xenoblade was largely a technical marvel and incredible JRPG adored by a niche community.? Then, the game launched as one of 2017’s tentpole exclusives, ending Nintendo Switch’s first calendar year on the market. After Xenoblade Chronicles 2, that narrative remained largely and unfortunately unchanged. However, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Starting that year, Nintendo allocated a level of attention to Xenoblade that few franchises get the privilege of experiencing.
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The Switch era truly has seen the franchise grow, largely thanks to Nintendo’s efforts. The critics and the Nintendo community emphatically embraced Xenoblade Chronicles 2. It also comparatively trounced its predecessors sales-wise. The game was expanded through its Torna DLC in 2019, which Nintendo positioned as a standalone release. Then, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition was given priority in two Nintendo Direct presentations before launching in 2020 and almost doubling the performance of the Wii original. From there, Pyra and Mythra were added to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, cementing the series’ position. Year after year, Nintendo make Xenoblade central.
However, while Nintendo has been treating Xenoblade as an A-List franchise, it doesn’t sell like one. The Switch era is seeing outrageous sales results for Nintendo’s IP. It’s fairly common for Switch exclusives to sell upwards of ten million copies. But, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, the best-selling entry, has moved just over two million copies. There is a clear disjunction between Nintendo’s effort and the sales result.
But, that doesn’t discount how pivotal Xenoblade is. Each entry has pushed Nintendo’s hardware far past its limits and achieved remarkable acclaim. Nintendo is often criticized for being too safe in its exclusives, and rightfully so. Monolith Soft’s Xenoblade games are the antithesis of that. They define a console’s library the same way that a 3D Mario or Zelda does. Between Xenoblade Chronicles and its work as a support team on other Nintendo titles like Breath of the Wild, Monolith Soft is easily one of Nintendo’s most valuable assets.
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About The Author
(209 Articles Published)
Abram Buehner is an editor, writer, gamer and all-around dork based on the East Coast of the United States. Hopping between Wheaton College in Massachusetts and his home in Midcoast Maine, Abram spends much of his time writing about video games, film, and comics… that is, when Abram isn’t playing games, watching film, or reading comics. When he’s not doing that, Abram is knee-deep in classwork, in pursuit of a B.A. in Film & New Media Studies with a minor in Journalism. You can connect with Abram on Twitter at @PnguinsWitCapes and email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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